Lakhta Center is a multifunctional complex in St. Petersburg with the Gazprom headquarter and public spaces occupying a third of the area. Construction was completed in October 2018, now start work on the arrangement of business and public areas. The opening will take place in about a year, when the complex will be fully prepared to meet guests.
The second and the third city centers will not be generated, the first city center is too good
Future Petersburg Almanac, Elena Krom
— Do you agree that a rapid expansion of new districts poses a threat to the city?
Yes, I do. The way it is done right now is very bad. It is obvious that if the number of people becomes triple as much within a relatively limited space and the infrastructure is retained the same as twenty years ago, the life will be getting worse. A vivid example is a residential area Staraya Derevnya created not long ago where you can get by metro from. The development of the residential area on Savushkina street was planned however nobody thought that the development would be so rapid and almost chaotic. A big district emerged making the life of dwellers in this district worse.
The authority representatives issue a permit to build and at the same time set an overwhelming task to a developer to provide transport accessibility. How can it be achieved if a new metro station is required there? A developer deals with one building worth of 400 million rubles whereas a new metro station costs 10 billion. As a result much will be said to a developer in respect of the necessity of transport accessibility and then in the end they will grant a permit to build and the building will be built. People who have bought flats in this building will start looking for a metro station but there is none. Why not just say that until transport communication is provided residential buildings must not be built there. It is not the issue of money; it is the issue of reasonable planning.
— But as you have just mentioned the projects on the outskirts have been approved already.
A developer should be granted a plot of land either on preferential terms or on a free of charge basis in another district of the city if the developer has already invested money in the area where the construction is forbidden at the moment. And not just in another district but in a priority area which is regarded as a development area for the nearest years to come.
— Can the development of Lakhta and adjoining areas of the northern part of the city be a priority objective in order to create the second center of Petersburg there with a dominating business function?
It will be impossible to create the second center because the first old center is too good. The historic Petersburg is built as a capital; it can not be replaced with anything. Whatever you do in new districts, nevertheless people will still strive for the urban core and fix appointments there, dine in restaurants, walk there. It is there where they feel that they are Petersburgers. It is possible to make another center, not as an alternative but as a complement with a lot of important functions and convenient communication with the central part of the city. In theory Lakhta –Yuntolovo area suits it. In practice not so much at the moment.
— Will not your property form the system at the level of the district?
A large facility does not form the system automatically. A system should be designed and formed artificially by being aware of firstly what it should look like and secondly how this viewpoint can be put into practice. The city authorities do not have such a viewpoint. It should be admitted that firstly there is no urban planning strategy in Petersburg and the existing master plan fails to form it. If practically no investors correspond their activities with the official plans of the city’s authorities then they fail to work.
Secondly we do need world level specialists deserving such a city as Petersburg experienced in the design of modern districts and cities and not just individual buildings, shopping outlets and car parking. Let me tell you a funny story about a conversion at a military production factory. Spare parts for washing machines were supplied and when they were assembled it turned out that they assembled Kalashnikov guns. If we announce that Petersburg would like to form its future and we will call for gifted urban planners and architects to take part in the process, then I assume that a lot of specialists will come to the city. And then it is up to the city to select the ideas which are closer to us.
Recently RBI company group has invited Spanish architect to deliver a lecture. He designed urban districts which make a city and are not just a set of elements. A city means not only residential buildings, roads, power substations, shopping malls and bus stops. And he worked in the countries with demanding citizens. Speaking about the northern part we need to call for such professionals if the city takes a decision to build a modern district in this area. And they will design comfortable residential areas in Yuntolovo, connect them with other districts and with our business complex as well. Then it will be required to provide a reliable transport communication with the urban core. In La Defense in Paris you can choose out of 6-7 alternative means of getting to the center of Paris comfortably. And in our city if you left the center and forgot doing something then it is practically impossible to return the same day.
— Will the city’s budget be enough to connect the north with the center?
It is absolutely feasible but on the other hand the thing is that strategic objectives are always in conflict with tactic ones and the latter tend to win. You may build a garden city in the north and you may expand the existing congestion on the roads adjoining to the center.
Should Obvodny canal be accessible for vehicles? Yes, of course. Therefore the city proposes to resolve the problems of American bridges. It is not connected with development. And it turns out that with available investment opportunities the Western Speed Diameter and a couple of embankments are the objectives of three Petersburg governments. No sufficient amounts of money, no strategy.
— What can be done?
Objectives are to be set at least for 10 years ahead and a regulation is to be observed that a development program shall be implemented strictly the same as the budget. What we have is that the budget goes down at 20%, whereas the investment program at 90%. And the reason for that is that the budget comprises of the parts which do not refer to investments and which are absolutely protected, they can not be reduced. And once they did not build infrastructure on time, next time people do not believe to the city authorities saying to build the infrastructure at first. But the city authorities state that they will build infrastructure only when there are enough people there. It resembles a vicious circle.
However it is clear that Petersburg cannot be developed chaotically any more. It needs an ideology.
— As far as we understand you do not regard the idea of a cluster development as feasible?
It does not suit us because of our mindset. Nobody wants to spend at least a month in a new block of flats or in the outskirts. The town of Pushkin could become a cluster but failed to do that. Though in Pushkin the air is better and the life is calmer, everybody goes shopping and entertaining to the center. In the US the model works properly because for people there is no principle difference between the center of Los Angeles and Santa Monica. The first one is big and noisy, the second one is small and quiet and as for the rest they are almost the same. On the other hand, some polycentric elements are inevitable for Saint Petersburg because much what is required by a modern city is impossible to be built in the historic center.
If developers find it easier to develop the outskirts, let them do it but based on a clear policy and under the regulations. As soon as minimum conditions are provided for redevelopment, the money will return there. In the central part of the city there are a few thousand of buildings which wait for their second life. In theory their location is very attractive. But they are populated by mixed social layers, there is no common managing authority. A necessary resource is to be generated to build tunnels to preserve the image and provide communication as well as comfort for pedestrians.
If we do it then it will again be expensive and prestigious in the center. Well, but the center should not be expensive throughout. In Paris one type of consumers are in the first yard, and another type of consumers in the third one. The first lines are occupied by rentiers, the second lines by businessmen and the third lines by students. For the sake of living in the center they put up with small flats. A large number of such small flats enables investors to invest money into the third line. The same thing can be done in Petersburg.